Sunday, May 5, 2019

GOOD GRIEF, "Comfort Each Other"

Good Grief: Strategies for Building Resilience and Supporting Transformation
If there is any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not deter or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.
William Penn
Take a moment to ask yourself this question: What does “to comfort” mean to you?

It may be simple to come up with an answer or it may be a challenge. You may come up with different terms to describe comfort than would your friend, relative, or colleague at work.

Whatever description you have for what comfort means to you is valid; it will reflect what your comfort needs are during times of stress. Write them down somewhere you will have easy access to them when stressful events knock at your door, because you may be overwhelmed and likely to forget them during such times.

If you know what comforts you, then when someone asks you, “What can I do for you?” you will be able to tell them what you need to get you through a tough time.

Comfort for me meant that someone would care enough to take the time to share with me their caring, love, and support. I did not have a list made ahead of time, but I had a good understanding of how to give comfort…as any good nurse does. What I did not have was the experience of being a receiver of comfort and caring — so I had to learn how to receive.

I found that there were some specific things that comfort meant to me:
        the companionship and love of my daughter and her wonderful cooking — reminding me of our connection;
        someone dropping everything and coming to my home to give me a hug and hold my hand while listening intently to my story of loss with tears in their eyes — making me feel worthy of love and caring;
        others sharing their memories of my husband with me — reminding me he will be forever in my heart;
        someone calling me on the phone to talk to me and continuing to keep talking when I could not speak — filling the empty silence;
        someone to stuff tissues into my hands when I cried and could not see to find them — allowing me to grieve and them to witness;
        being wrapped in a big loving hug and held — for more than a few seconds, making me feel grounded, connected, and safe;
        someone willing to let me decide how to spend our time together — making me feel special;
        enjoying laughter with my daughter (the comedian) or a friend — easing the pent-up tension;
        someone allowing me to sit side-by-side with them in silence, holding space for me and my grief — creating a protective space to just be;
        receiving such lovely condolences cards from everyone — each one unique, offering a special message just for me; and
        me “giving” comfort and caring to those who were also comforting and caring to me — recognizing their hurt and feelings too.

Below, I have shared some acts of comfort and caring that met my needs and provided me with outstanding memories.

At first, I was wrapped up in my own world of shock and grief. The environment around me was a blur of activity or a void of nothingness. I wanted to shrink into myself or lash out at others for no apparent reason. But then I recognized that I was not the only one experiencing the loss and grieving.

Everyone was feeling the pain and loss in their own way: my family, the EMT group who tried so diligently to revive my loved one, the undertaker and his assistant, as well as a host of others. I found myself reaching out and comforting others as I witnessed their grief response — often suppressing my own. This may be a natural response for some; yet, others may retreat into isolation for a while as the pain and shock of the loss is too overwhelming.

There is no wrong choice for dealing with this loss — it is a unique experience for each individual and for each loss. I can, however, say that reaching out to comfort each other is a very powerful action. It has a twofold healing benefit, as the grief and loss are shared experiences: not only for the person experiencing the immediate loss, but for those sharing in the loss of someone they cared about. Sometimes, we can only stand beside one another and let our closeness say what words cannot.

Other times, we can accept invitations out for coffee and a chat or lunch, dinner, or just a walk.

Having someone to talk to and grieve along with supports the wounded spirit and eases the loneliness.

My first act of providing comfort and receiving comfort was from the EMTs during the resuscitation event. We talked to each other as professionals, as I am also a nurse with a background in intensive care and am familiar with these types of events in the hospital setting. The team leader was sensitive to my needs when I said that my husband’s wishes were not to continue heroic measures in a case like this, lacking success in the resuscitation process.

We stopped the process, ended it officially. They gently put my husband back in bed. I thanked the leader and the team for their caring and respect. The team leader stayed and helped with a phone call to the undertaker for me. I knew which one I wanted, but could only remember the location, not the name. This being taken care of, the EMTs left.

My daughter and I sat alone together on the sofa in the living room side-by-side, staring, as the aftershocks of disbelief, pain, and grief enveloped us…our minds were still reliving the event.

I could not sit still. I went upstairs to the bedroom where my husband remained. My daughter’s first act of comfort to me was when she followed me up the stairs and stood by my side while I touched my husband and kissed him good-bye. She and I needed to be close. We had just lost a very significance presence — my husband/her father. Being physically close, whether exchanging words or sharing the same space in silence, is comforting.

My first comforting act for my daughter was to sleep in the same room with her after my deceased husband was taken to the funeral home. He had died in my (our) bed. I could not sleep there. Bonnie and I had a hard time sleeping, so we just lay in bed and tried to rest until morning came…with its myriad of duties awaiting us.

My daughter and I went to the funeral home together and took care of all the arrangements — feeling a sense of honoring him by following through with his wishes. By caring for him in this way, we were caring for ourselves, as well.

We also discussed finances and the routine home upkeep duties/ obligations that do not disappear during this time. I needed to remember to take my time, ask for help, and move forward to the next task. My daughter and I looked after each other, despite forgetfulness (especially me) with leaving doors unlocked, forgetting paperwork, lights left on, etc. We sent each other text messages via phone while we were at work to keep connected.

Later in the grieving process, I wrote a note to my daughter telling her that I was proud of her, loved her, and that she was awesome. I taped the note on the wall in the bathroom where she would find it. When she did, she came and gave me a big hug. She left that note hanging in the bathroom for weeks.

Sometime after this, my daughter went away for a few days. I was home alone for the first time. She left me quite a surprise: scattered around the house…on mirrors, in my books, on my computer, on the TV, in a picture frame, etc.…. were a total of nine, yellow Buddha post-it notes. Each note contained a special caring comment: “I love you,” “You are awesome,” “Breathe,” and others. It took a while to find them all. Each made me smile and shed a few tears. I also felt joy for the first time and so cared for by my daughter. This act validated that the caring had come full circle — back to me.

One day, I was taken out by a friend, Kathy, who asked me what I wanted to do: “Do you want to be quiet, talk, walk, sit on a bench. I’m here for you whatever you want to do.”

She let me decide how and what experience we would share together. It was all about me. I could decide how to receive comfort that I needed — or what felt right. I had trouble thinking of what I wanted to do, so I decided to go somewhere close and familiar. We stopped by a park with a pond and a small waterfall. We sat on a bench side-by-side and just listened to the sounds of nature while we said a few words to each other. I was blessed by her presence and this gift of companionship.

Others provided comfort and caring to me in their own unique ways. I appreciated each person’s willingness to step forward and offer me such precious gifts.

My achievements included answering the phone, responding to email, texts, or knocks at my door. 

These were challenging for me, resisting the tendency to withdraw into myself and build a wall of protection — insulating me from having to talk about the loss. Although withdrawing sounds like a great idea at first, do not prolong this protective phase. It is important to connect with people, to talk about your loss, to receive caring from others.

Note that I do not normally “just answer the phone,” so this was significant for me. I decided to pick up the phone and accept the comfort of friends and family. Phone conversations were strained at first, with pauses at times when either the caller or I struggled for what to say. I remember a phone call or two in the beginning when I got so choked up and could hardly talk, and the person on the other end could hardly understand me.

If I had made the call, I feared the person would think me a crank caller, as I tried to speak around the sobs and said to them “Don’t hang up. It’s me and….”

Then the news of my husband’s death came out between sobs.

Slowly, I gained control and spoke.

I also answered the door when friends came to the home to participate in grieving with me and my daughter. One friend, Kathy, called and came over with flowers and sat with me for a while, providing comfort and companionship.

Another friend, Annmarie, called and said, “Cheryl, just give me your address, I’m coming right over.”

And she just showed up on my doorstep without delay, greeting me with a bear hug and much compassion.

I would like to offer a few words of caution here, as some comfort givers have little experience in this area and either avoid you or stumble blindly in their attempt at caring. Some people have been culturally conditioned in their responses and may seem robotic in their offerings of care. And many, frankly do not know how to provide caring, because tragedy and loss have not crashed into their own journey through life — yet.

My suggestion: listen to all who offer you caring and support, however it comes, with an open heart. Hold your criticism at bay. Judge not how the message is delivered, but hold dear all who dare to care. This is an opportunity for all to learn about the messy business of grief and loss. We know that 100% of us will deal with death at some point. There is no escape. It is up to us how we deal with it — and we each deal with it uniquely.

I learned that comforting and caring for each other has no set of guidelines to follow. It is important to listen to your heart and respond when you sense someone’s pain, suffering, grief, or loss. Remember to be gentle with yourself when reaching out to comfort another. Be genuine, be yourself, and just be there for them and yourself too. There is no right or wrong way to care. Just choose to care.

        I am worthy of love and am loved.
        I am grateful for the caring of others.
        I feel comfort by sharing my grief with others who care.


With her permission, I am serializing here nurse Cheryl Barrett's valuable book on transcending grief. I had the pleasure of being her coach and editor through my Write Your Book with Me enterprise. 

Douglas Winslow Cooper, PhD

Perhaps the easiest way to obtain a copy of her book, published by Outskirts Press, is through this Amazon link: 

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